UK Heritage

Rebel Spy Girl in London Marriage Sensation

(The original version of this article appeared in 'Crossfire' the magazine of the ACWRT (UK) No. 46)

 

London 1863 - the sensational confederate girl spy, who had helped 'stonewall' Jackson win his most famous campaign, once again outflanks the union, this time by marrying her erstwhile captor in a Piccadilly church.

 

 


Maria Isabella 'Belle' Boyd of Martinsburg, Virginia, was only 16 when the Civil War broke out. Yet she became a press sensation in both North and South, in Britain and in France, for her daring and dizzy espionage exploits during General 'Stonewall' Jackson's 1862 Valley campaign. After receiving Jackson's personal thanks for assisting in the victory, she was created an 'honorary captain' of the Confederate army: though her weapons were charm and guile, she had earlier been acquitted of shooting dead a Union soldier who had harassed her mother. After many adventures, including a health-draining spell of imprisonment in Washington DC, she tried to get to England, to assist the Southern war effort there. Though the USS Connecticut seized her ship on her outward journey, Belle successfully sowed the seeds of romance that resulted in her captor, Ensign Samuel Hardinge, being court-martialled and dismissed the service. Subsequently finding that his lover had left from Canada, the besotted Hardinge's heart-breaking pursuit of her to England and then to France, finally lead to the couple's reunion in Liverpool.

 

The couple were married in August 1863 in St James's Church, Piccadilly. The event was reported by the Morning Post: -

 

"Miss Belle Boyd, whose name and fame are deservedly cherished in the Southern States, pledged her troth to Mr. Sam Wylde Hardinge, formerly an officer in the Federal naval service. The wedding attracted to the church a considerable number of English and American sympathisers in the cause of the South, anxious to see the lady whose heroism has made her name so famous, and to witness the result of her last activity, the making captive of the Federal officer under whose guard she was being conveyed to prison".

 

Mrs Edward Robinson Harvey, it was further related, attended the bride, at the altar. Mr Henry Howard Barber supported Mr. Hardinge. The Reverend Mr. Paul read the services; the Reverend Frederic Kill Harford gave the bride away. "At the conclusion of the ceremony the bride and bridegroom and their friends proceeded to the Brunswick Hotel, Jermyn Street, where a choice and well-arranged breakfast was partaken of, and at a fitting moment, Mr Barber, in a most eloquent speech, proposed the health of Mr & Mrs Hardinge, eulogising the services the lady had performed and prognosticating that the bridegroom would soon win fame in the services - the services are unexplained - on which he is about to enter, The toast of "The Queen" was afterwards given. "President Davis and General Lee" and many other followed in due order, till the growing hours warned the bride and bridegroom that it was time to depart for Liverpool. Mr. Hardinge proposes in a few days to leave for the South, whither, in spite of the blockade, he intends to convey a goodly portion of the wedding cake for distribution amongst his wife's friends".

 

On his return, Hardinge was eventually caught and imprisoned on charges of espionage for the South. He returned to his by now destitute young wife shortly after the war, but died within months through ill health resulting from his incarceration. Belle eventually channeled her artful talents into a stage career in England and in America. She died in 1900 in Wisconsin.

 

St James's Church

click image to zoom

St James's church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1676 and 1684. It offered badly bomb damage during the Second World War but was subsequently restored by Sir Albert Richardson and rededicated in 1954.

 

ACWRT (UK) 1994 & 2001

Note: The original text of this article appeared in 'Crossfire' the magazine of the ACWRT (UK) No. 46 under the title 'Places in Britain of Civil War Interest: St James's Church, Piccadilly')

 

Picture Credits:

 

1 & 2 University of Virginia - all rights reserved.

 

3 St James's Church, Piccadilly by John Laskey, appears here with his permission.

 

Picture 2 : 'General Stuart's New Aid': Harper's Weekly (New York), April 4, 1863: This Union propaganda cartoon of uniformed female spy/scout, Antonia Ford (close friend of Belle), alleges Confederate General J. E. B. Stuart unfairly employed female spies knowing that if caught the Yankees would not execute them because of their gender. (Additional information: Francis Hamit)